The Replanted Tree

The story “The Replanted Tree” is designed in particular for children finding
it hard to come to terms with a new living situation after a house move
or adoption, or after their parents have divorced and the family has been
restructured. Once again, it is a good idea to refer to a minor injury in the
story in order to incorporate the problem which the listener is facing and its
predicted improvement without lending too much gravity to the story (and by
analogy to the way in which the patient handles the associated situation in his
or her life). The story can also be used for patients who are forced – for agerelated
or health- related reasons – to move out of their own house in order to
go and live with family or in a home, or adults with disabilities who are forced
to move away from their families and into sheltered accommodation.

One day a gardener was working in his garden when he found a small tree
right in the middle of some shady undergrowth. “A shadbush!” he cried.
“How on earth did that get here?” He would never have suspected that
such a beautiful and valuable tree could be found in such a dark location.
Perhaps the wind or a bird had carried its seeds there?
The gardener thought carefully about what he should do next. He
knew that it is sometimes diffi cult to move a plant to a different location,
but he also knew that his shadbush would never grow into a large, strong
and beautiful tree if it stayed here in the shade. So he decided to replant it
in a different location, where it would get enough sun and wind to thrive
and fl ourish. He took his spade and dug out a broad ring of soil around
the trunk of the tree before digging a hole in the ground where he wanted
the tree to grow and placing the shadbush there, root ball and all. He then
fi lled the hole back up with soil, added exactly the right amount of fertiliser,
and gave the plant a good watering.
When he looked at his tree the next day, he was dismayed to see that all
the leaves on it were drooping. He thought to himself that the tree’s roots
had probably extended a long way under the ground before it had been
dug up, and that it must have lost some of its tiniest hair- like roots. The
tree would need to conserve its energy to heal these injuries, but it should
be able to regrow its roots, and so the gardener decided to give his tree the
best possible care and simply be patient. He waited and gave the tree all
the time it needed, and soon the leaves had indeed regained their former
strength. After a few months the tree was a fi ne specimen, and after a few
years it had grown into a large and strong tree.

Terminé!

« Terminé! » , cria l’œuf quand il fut pondu. « Maintenant terminé! » , cria le tétard quand il fut sortie de l’œuf. « Maintenant je suis au complet! », cria la créature quand elle eut deux pattes. « Je suis enfin au complet de la tête aux pieds! » , cria l’être, quand il eut quatre pattes et une longue queue. « Qui sait ce qui va désormais encore se produire… » , dit la grenouille quand elle fut terminée.

Le loup de mer et le loup de terre

Un jour, le loup de mer reҫu la visite du loup de terre. Les deux se connaissaient déjà depuis l’école des loups. Le loup de mer avait parcouru le monde et vécut beaucoup d’aventures et il rentra chez lui riche de trésors et d’expériences. Le loup de terre était resté chez soi dans sa tannière. Il rencontra une louve de terre et eut des louveteaux de terre. Et maintenant, il a beaucoup de petits-louveteaux et des arrière-petits-louveteaux, et tous sont devenus de vrais, bons loups de terre.

«Parfois j’aimerais refaire ma vie», dit le loup de terre au loup de mer. «C’est la même chose pour moi», dit ce dernier. «Je ferais beaucoup de choses différemment», dit le loup de terre. «Oui, moi aussi», répondit le loup de mer. «Je naviguerais les océans», rêva le loup de terre. «Je me marierais», soupira le loup de mer. «Je vivrais des aventures», expliqua le loup de terre. «J’aurais des louveteaux», dit le loup de mer. «Je serais un loup de mer riche. J’aurais vécu des expériences  périlleuses et magnifiques, dont je pourrais raconter les histoires», dit le loup de terre avec enthousiasme. «Moi, j’aurais des petits-enfants et des arrière-petits-enfants qui m’aimeraient et qui s’occuperaient de moi quand je serais vieux et malade», assura le loup de mer.

«Et ce serait moi qui serait maintenant assis avec toi dans cette tannière de loup de mer», continua le loup de terre, « …et moi avec toi… », rajouta le loup de mer. Le loup de terre hocha la tête : «Et puis maintenant tu me dirais : “Parfois, j’aimerais bien refaire ma vie” et moi, je répondrais : “Oui, c’est la même chose pour moi.”»

At Dying Beds

At dying beds I’ve experienced a lot of silence – which felt at times good, at times disturbing. Dying people will be almost always be in coma in their last hours (and, mostly, days). What hinders us from speaking with the dying?

  • As family members, we may be in a shock state, frozen or confused.
  • We may be insecure if they hear and understand us.
  • We may be insecure what is relevant and helpful for them.
  • We may feel insecure what the staff thinks of us if we behave unconventional.
But surely, if we find out what hinders us from speaking and acting, this can free us and widen the range of our possibilities, to the benefit of both ourselves and the patient.

Sometimes it’s extremely difficult to notice and interpret any nonverbal reactions of coma patients. In other cases we need to sharpen our senses. With no other body reactions left, often there are still reactions on our words, or on caressing, in the patients’ changing his of breath style and rhythm (unless on a breathing machine).
If we do find tiny nonverbal reactions or changes of the way of breathing, the questions are:

  • Does the patient show this behavior repeatedly (every time) when we bring up a certain topic or do something particular (or when a certain person is arriving or leaving or being mentioned)?
  • Do we rather see the reaction as one of stress or relief?

I would like to summarize a few things that I have learned from the Encounters I had with dying people.
1. Treat dying people as living people.                                                                              2. At a dying bed, get aware of what hinders you from acting and speaking free. Free yourself to get flexible.
3. Observe which tiny reactions (movements, mimics, breath) the dying person shows repeatedly on certain key words, persons, behavior. Are they reacions of stress, relief or interest? Which are the triggers?
4. Dying patients may be in coma, but they’re usually not deaf. Choose your words well. No catastrophic medical descriptions or burial talk.
5. Create rapport. Introduce yourself and tell your aim shortly. Use body contact, use your voice and breath pacing.
6. See a coma patient as someone who is already in trance. Create rapport. Interventions can start right away, without induction
7. The subconscious responds strongly to imagery. Speak in a dream language. Use metaphors, avoid abstract words.
8. Breath pacing and leading can regulate pain or breath problems (and can regulate breath down till it almost stops).
9. Breath, blood pressure and heart rate can also be regulated by metaphors (f. e. of a flying eagle, a pulsating jellyfish or a manta ray).
10. Speak about emotional content rather than about facts.
11. Express in metaphors or more directly that it is possible and good to let go – of live, of psychological problems of body problems.
12. Use metaphoric terms to speak about the good future.
13. Introduce thoughts like “You can love them from the other side”, “things will change, relations go on”.
14. Use negative terms only with a good reason. Except for pacing strong pain, don’t mention “pain” but “body sensations”. Teach this to the relatives.
15. People will rather die when they’re ready to go. What may help: Rituals, a bye-bye from family members, messages of “letting go”.

The Good Shepherd

I would like to say something about breath pacing, and about texts that we can recite to a dying Person.
I knew Mrs. Seiberth, and we had liked each other. I knew that she was a religious woman and that she wished that her son would come and see her. Asked why he doesn’t come she said: “He’s living far away. – But also, he is afraid of seeing me so sick.” When I was visiting her now she was in coma. She looked into an empty space. With every breath she made a coughing sound. I put my hands on her arm. Calm and slowly, with long pauses in the pace of her breath I recited the psalm of the good shepherd. Her breath went calmer and the coughing noise went silent. But at the words “thy rod and staff they comfort me” the coughing came back. Maybe they reminded her of something that made her sad? The concept of systematic desensitation of fears came to my mind. So I repeated these very words so often in a very calm and friendly tone till the coughing disappeared again. Then I continued. At the words “in the presence of my enemies” the coughing came back. I did the same procedure of repeating the words in a friendly tone till the coughing was gone and she was breathing calmly. At the words “Goodness and mercy will follow me all my life” her breath got even calmer. So I repeated these words many times till it got even calmer. I finished the Psalm and said “I would like to say bye-bye now.” Immediately the coughing noise came back and continued with every breath. “I will come back, I will come back, I will come back…” I said, and the noise disappeared. The next day I visited her I read the same psalm to her. Her breath was calm and silent all the time. Only when I said that now I would leave the coughing noise came back. “I come again, I come again, I come again…” I said till it was calm again. The next day I was about ninety minutes later than on the previous days. Entering her room I saw a man who introduced himself as her son. “She’s died an hour ago.” He said. „Was she still alive when you came?“ „Yes“, he said. (Stefan Hammel, Handbook of Therapeutic Storytelling, Karnac, London 2017/18)

The Cloak Room

Noticing that the man I mentioned yesterday died so soon after my visit I got curious about the effectivity of the cloak room metaphor.

I remember I was called to the bed of a dying woman. When I arrived she was breathing about once per minute. I didn’t know that a person could breathe so little and still be alive. Her daughter and her son in law were there. I asked if it were appropriate to speak a prayer, to which they said “Yes”. After telling the dying woman that her daughter and son in law were there, who I was and what I was going to do I put my hand on her arm and spoke a prayer. Then I said to her: “I would like to tell you something, Mrs. S. I imagine there’s a door. When it will be the right time for you, you can go through that door. Next to the door there’s a cloak room. There’s someone who can have an eye on your things so they’re safe. It’s a special wardrobe. You can had in anything that’s a burden to you.
If you’re afraid – take it off. You don’t need any fear over there.
If you’re sad – hand it in. For what? You don’t have any use for that now.
If you bear a grudge or haven’t forgiven someone – hang it on the big wardrobe.
If you feel obliged to anything – take it off.
If you think you need to stay – there’s nothing you need to! If you want, give it to the one who’s standing there for guarding it.
If you think there’s still something left to do or that there’s anything missing – hand it in to the one who will guard it for you.
If there’s anything unpleasant in your body – give it to him as well.
If there’s any problem with breathing – give it to him as well.
If there’s anything else you would like to give to him – hand in anything that you don’t need any more.
Give him anything that has become a burden for you. Take it off. You don’t need it any more. And when you notice that it’s time for you, go through the door.” I finished with a blessing.
During the prayer the breath frequency of the woman had gon up to about six breaths per minutes, and thus it stayed for a while. Her daughter and son-in-law were observing her breath silently. The silence felt somewhat heavy for me and I had the imagination it could be the same for the dying woman. So I asked: “Can you tell me what happened so your mother got in this state?” The daughter said a few sentences. Her mother’s breath got very slow again. After five breaths there was a very tiny one. Then everything was still. (Stefan Hammel, Loslassen und leben. Impress, Mainz 2016)
I’ve used this metaphor a number of times now. Often the effect seemed to be very strong. The structure is thus: There’s door and a cloak room and an attendant next to it. You say: Whatever burdens you concerning the past: Hand it in. This can be specified as a bad conscience or anger against someone else or sadness about something that happened. Whatever burdens you concerning the future: Hand it in. This could be specified as worries about the relatives or about what comes after death. Whatever burdens you concerning the present, hand it in. This could for example be specified as a discomfort of the body (pain) or breathing problems.

On the Effects of Last Rites

In my work as a chaplain I have been at many dying beds. I find it notable that people don’t want to call the pastor unless their Family member is really dying. Maybe they think that when the pastor’s been there, there’s no way back. You could take that as a superstition. But there’s some evidence that they may be right. I’ve seen people survive when the medical staff said they would die in the next few hours. I’ve seen one person survive for three days after the doctor told the relatives that according to brain death diagnostics the patient is already dead. I have not seen a single person survive after the pastor was there for a last prayer. I remember saying to a colleague: “I’ve always got a bad conscience. I feel as if I’m killing these people with my prayers. They all die within hours after I’ve been there.” He replied: “Oh, you as well?”
I remember being at a dying bed of an old woman. She was in coma, had an oxigene mask but still had trouble breating. There were about eight relatives around her bed, a tight-knit family clan. I spoke with them and I did a little ceremony. When I spoke the Lord’s prayer everyone spoke it with me real loud. It was quite a powerful experience. After I left the room one of the relatives said to me: “Did you see? When you came her heart rate was at 90 but during the Lord’s prayer it was at 140.” The nurse said: “It can take hours or days, we don’t know.” I remember answering: “It’s a strange thing. Mostly people die within hours after these prayers.” She left that uncommented. 15 min later I got a phone call that the lady had died and the relatives wanted to see me once again. The same nurse opened the door. “I had to think of your words”, she said.

Luís

Yo todavía era niño. Pero también si hubiera sido mayor, no habría podido decir como el carpa se hubiera explicado a si mismo su curioso viaje. Es que algunos amigos míos se habían permitido una jugarreta con él. De noche, clandestinamente lo habían sacado de su estanque con una red. Lo habían llevado en un cubo a través de bosques y campos por muchos kilómetros. La piscina en el jardín de mis padres debería ser su nuevo hogar. Tengo que admitir: No fue poco nuestro asombro cuando lo vimos nadando sus rondas en el agua. Me parece que fue en septiembre. Ya no se echaba cloro al agua, la temporada de nadar casi se había acabado. Entonces pez y ser humano ya no se hacían tanta competencia el uno al otro, y así Luís, como lo llamamos, podía quedarse allí por el momento. Vino el invierno y con él una espesa capa de hielo.
En la primavera, el agua fue cambiada. Como se puso en manifiesto , Luís había superado bien el invierno. El consejo familiar acordó devolverlo a su hogar. Otra vez Luís fue despachado en un cubo. Lo más grande que pudimos encontrar era un cubo ya inservible de pintura. Siguiendo caminos de bosque y de campo, nos fuimos para devolverlo a sus amigos y familiares. En el cubo, Luís dio sus vueltas, en círculos bastante pequeños, porque había crecido durante el invierno, y un viejo cubo de pintura no es una casa señorial para un carpa. Encima de eso, la mitad del agua se nos derramó a lo largo del camino. Pero finalmente llegamos. Con un empuje Luís acabó en su estanque para reencontrar sus viejos conocidos. Lo que hizo después fue muy sorprendente: Luís dio sus vueltas allí, pero lo hizo como que si no se encontrara en un estanque sino en un pequeño cubo, como antes. Trazó seis o siete círculos de un diámetro inferior a medio metro. Después los círculos se convirtieron en una espiral, estrecha al inicio y ampliándose más y más. Finalmente Luís comprendió donde se encontraba. En una larga línea se disparó fuera de su órbita de cubo.

(Por Stefan Hammel, traducción: Bettina Betz)

Snail and Vole

A story by Katharina Lamprecht

A vole watched a snail, which dipsy-doodled along a path and asked her: “Why do you crawl so arduously back and forth? Doing that it takes you much longer to get forward”. The snail sighed. “That’s true, but I always look on both sides of the path for something to eat. When I´m on the left side I keep thinking, that there might be better food on the right. When I´m on the right side I think the same and therefore go back to the left. I´m always afraid that I will overlook some yummy greens”. The vole understood perfectly. “I´ll help you. I´m a big taller than you are and walk in the middle of the path, that´s a good lookout. You can stay on the right side and in case I see something worth coming over to the left, I´ll let you know”. And in this way they went on. The vole saw many lush and juicy herbs on the left side, but it didn’t say a word. Because now, giving all her attention to just one side of the path, the snail found enough treats. After a while, as the snail discovered that she found enough to eat, she thanked the vole for the help and went on by herself. Just following her path.

La flor en la isla

En una pequeña isla en medio del océano extenso crecía una hermosa flor amarilla de oro. Nadie sabía cómo había llegado allí, porque en esta isla no había ninguna flor aparte de ella. Las gaviotas venían volando para contemplar este milagro con asombro. “Es linda como el sol”, decían. Los peces venían nadando. Levantaban las cabezas encima del agua para admirarla. “Es linda como un coral”, decían. Un cangrejo salió a la tierra para mirarla. “Es linda como una perla en el suelo del mar”, dijo. Y todos venían casi cada día para admirar esta flor.

Un día, cuando volvieron para contemplar la flor, se encontraron con que los pétalos dorados de la flor se habían vuelto marones y secos. “Ay de nosotros”, dijeron las gaviotas, los peces y el cangrejo. “El sol quemó nuestra flor. ¿Quién ahora nos refrescará el corazón?”. Y todos se pusieron tristes.

Pero algunos días más tarde apareció en lugar de la flor una maravillosa bola de color blanco tierno. “¿Qué es eso?”, preguntaron los animales. “Es tan blando como una nube”, dijeron las gaviotas. “Es tan ligero como la espuma de las olas”, dijeron los peces. “Es tan fino como el resplandor del sol en la arena”, dijo el cangrejo. Y todos los animales se alegraron.

En este momento un golpe de viento barrió la isla y sopló este milagro blanco dispersándolo por ella en miles de copos. “Ay de nosotros”, hablaron las gaviotas, los peces y el cangrejo. “El viento ha dispersado nuestra bola. ¿Qué alegrará nuestro ánimo ahora?” Y todos estaban tristes entonces.

Un día por la mañana, al levantarse el sol sobre la mar, allí en la luz dorada matinal relucieron cientos y cientos de hermosas flores color amarillo de oro. Entonces bailaron las gaviotas en el cielo y los peces en el agua, y el cangrejo bailó con sus amigos una danza de rueda en medio de las flores, y todos se alegraron.

(Por Stefan Hammel, traducción: Bettina Betz)